Fusing Two Winter Worlds
Most people know us for our award-winning MICROspikes®. Dependable and aggressive, they’re great for hiking on frozen mountain trails and terrain—but not so much on roads. This led us to develop NANOspikes®. Comfortable and highly durable, they’re built for running long miles on roads—but they can’t handle trails. So, when customers told us they wanted one product that could be used on both trails and roads, we asked ourselves, “Is it even possible?”
The quick answer is yes, but it took more than 50 prototypes, countless hours of testing, and being guided by our design ethos to make EXOspikes™ footwear traction a reality.
Great design starts with curiosity. We’re always in search of solutions to problems, but before a problem can be solved, it needs to be identified and understood. From there, we design, test and refine a product, working through all of the iterations until there’s nothing left to improve, and never settling for good enough.
The Whole Enchilada
As the design process began, EXOspikes prototypes were code-named “Enchilada,” because our goal was to design a multi-use traction device that had a bit of everything. But it wasn’t as easy as just combining the best elements of MICROspikes and NANOspikes. It was a careful balancing act of capturing the advantages of both products while also considering everything users would require EXOspikes to do. When we had a prototype that was comfortable, it wasn’t secure. When one was high-performing, it wasn’t packable. And when another was flexible, it wasn’t durable. Each prototype changed drastically, and as the design process moved along it became apparent EXOspikes had to be completely unique.
Even though most of our prototypes were unsuccessful, each one taught us something new and led us to experience three significant breakthroughs along the way.
The first was identifying a clear, specific need. The vision was to create a product that allowed users to walk out their front door, get to the trailhead, crush the trail, and come back home without ever taking it off. And thanks to extensive customer feedback, we directly understood what they not only wanted, but needed, and challenged ourselves to deliver.
The second was realizing we needed something that would not only dig into all sorts of terrain but also excel on glare ice. We drew inspiration from a variety of trail shoes and the great cross-terrain performance they provide. The result was TPU lugs with integrated tungsten carbide spikes that provide three levels of traction: tungsten carbide tips bite into ice and packed snow, aluminum steps grip uneven surfaces, and TPU lugs dig into loose terrain.
The third was bringing together the comfort and road durability of NANOspikes® with the security and overall trail performance of MICROspikes®. The constant back and forth of melding completely different approaches with new concepts and implementing them into one cohesive product was challenging. Ultimately, we found that focusing on designs that utilized the unique properties of the materials benefited the product’s overall functionality.
These breakthroughs led to an unconventional but highly functional design, highlighted by an industry-first TPU Traction Matrix. By figuring out how to combine the chain flexibility and independent spike movement of MICROspikes with the total material set (TPU construction with tungsten carbide studs and aluminum holders) of NANOspikes, the matrix is more abrasion resistant than stainless steel and features an open design that allows the tread on footwear to dynamically engage terrain. And paired with a new TPE elastomer harness geometry that better optimizes fit and adapts to footwear, EXOspikes are 40% lighter than MICROspikes.
EXOspikes™ Footwear Traction
The term exo- means “external; from outside.” When developing EXOspikes, the original idea was to build a product that encompassed more of the outdoors, and worked on frozen mountain trails as well as icy and snow-packed roads. Prior to EXOspikes, the irony was that our customers had two products they loved, but each was limited to use on one type of terrain. During later testing, we discovered EXOspikes also naturally excel on all of those places in between—like exposed dirt, mud and rocks. Not only can trail runners and hikers finally crossover roads and trails with one piece of gear, but they could move comfortably and freely over an even larger mix of terrain and real-world winter conditions.
Across our entire traction line, we’ve found solutions to problems. With KTS Crampons, it was building a non-rigid, flexible crampon that worked with hiking footwear but was also packable. MICROspikes, it was providing truly portable winter traction that could fit in your pocket but also perform at a high level. NANOspikes, it was finding the right materials and applying them to a form that would excel in urban scenarios. And with EXOspikes, it was the demanding process of understanding how the materials and design of two awesome products could work together.
Whenever we get the opportunity to add valuable traction to the winter equation, it’s accompanied by an intense mix of emotion and passion. We feel it when designing and testing our products, and we hope you feel it when using them. We’re excited to share EXOspikes™ footwear traction with the world, and bring 21 years of design, technology and materials science together into ONE great product.